Higher Education’s 2019 Trend Watch and Top 10 Strategic Technologies

Introduction, Overview, and Summary

Introduction and Overview

In Ridley Scott’s 1982 epic science fiction film Blade Runner, the viewer is presented with a bleak portrayal of a technology-saturated future filled with flying cars, exaggerated industrial landscapes reaching far up into an obliterated atmosphere, and advanced androids (called “replicants”) that are nearly indistinguishable from their human counterparts. Noted for its groundbreaking creativity and design, this vision of the future is certainly startling and impressive, perhaps until one realizes that we are now living in the very same year in which the film’s events took place —2019— and that we have yet to realize many of the technological advances that decades ago we imagined to be attainable.

Of course, though you may not be reading this report in an automated flying car as you ascend to your 500th-floor office in a towering industrial building, in some ways the future is indeed here now, even as it was envisioned in the fantastical Blade Runner. We find ourselves in 2019 wrestling with some of the same ethical implications of our technological advances and navigating some of the same exogenous socioeconomic trends, from state and corporate abuses of power and violations of personal agency, to our ravaged environments and the artificial replacements thereof, and even to the challenging questions around what exactly makes us human and how technology enriches or impoverishes our experiences of being human.

As reflected in this year’s data on higher education IT trends and strategic technologies, this future is arriving at our colleges and universities as well, the implications of which will be no less challenging for IT and institutional leaders. Many of the trends and technologies summarized in this report are concerned ultimately with what it means to be a student, for example, and how institutional systems, data, and technologies can enrich the experiences of being a student. Students increasingly find themselves navigating technology-saturated educational environments, whether through the implementation of active learning classrooms or the integration of mobile and other devices with classroom experiences. In helping to scaffold these experiences, higher education IT will continue to demand new resources, models, and innovations, with the drive toward students’ thriving and success at the heart of it all.

At the top of the IT Issues list again this year, security remains a perennial concern for institutions and IT professionals. Indeed, along with the exciting advancements in higher education technology inevitably come changes in the threats those technologies represent to the institution. One area in which this may be keenly felt is in the growth of institutional data capabilities and integrations and in the institution’s increasing reliance on data for informed, predictive decision-making and learning facilitation. Institutions — though certainly not the villainous, power-hungry corporations of some dystopian future — must still be vigilant in protecting and accurately using ever-expanding stores of institutional data, and they must continue to develop more effective systems and business models for doing so.

It can be a daunting task for institutions and IT leaders to accurately map the contours of these and other trends and technologies that are only beginning to take shape. Even more challenging, how does one then actively plan and develop strategies for successfully meeting a future that may still seem far off on the industrial horizon? This report is designed to help IT and institutional leaders know where to focus their attention and planning for the trends and technologies that will matter most in the years ahead so that they can see better into the future and respond to it more effectively.

The trends and technologies reviewed in this report were identified through an EDUCAUSE survey conducted in the summer of 2018 and completed by 297 US institutions. This report focuses first on the 2019 Trend Watch, a summary of survey responses to a list of trends and their anticipated level of institutional influence. Trends are pervasive external factors that influence institutional and IT strategy and often shape the adoption of technologies. This report examines the trends that institutions are paying the most attention to and that are influencing emerging institutional IT strategy the most. This year’s trend list included 49 items.

The second section of the report focuses on strategic technologies and the degree to which institutions are paying attention to and implementing these technologies. Technologies are what IT organizations do. Mature, commonly deployed technologies (such as financial information systems or networks) may be among the most mission-critical technologies, but they are generally more likely to receive operational rather than strategic attention. Strategic technologies, by contrast, are the relatively new technologies institutions will be spending the most time tracking, planning for, and implementing in 2019.


  • The five trends exerting the most influence on higher education’s IT strategy are (1) the growing complexity of security threats, (2) student success focus/imperatives, (3) data-driven decision-making, (4) increasing complexity of technology, architecture, and data, and (tied for No. 4) contributions of IT to institutional operational excellence. These are the same five trends that exerted the most influence on higher education’s IT strategy in 2018. Each of these trends is influential at 63% or more of colleges and universities.
  • Some of the most hyped trends in higher education—adaptive learning, the Internet of Things, alternative credentialing models, and artificial intelligence (AI)—are expected to have only a limited impact on IT strategy in 2019.
  • The top 10 strategic technologies are characterized by features that will facilitate student success; improve data collection, security, and use; and support IT business strategies.
  • Two technologies—the uses of APIs, and active learning classrooms—remain at the top of the strategic technologies list in 2019. Five other technologies from the 2018 list also appear in the 2019 top 10 list: blended data center, incorporation of mobile devices in teaching and learning, technologies for improving analysis of student data, predictive analytics for student success (institutional level), and IT asset management tools (e.g., CMDB). Additionally, student success planning systems, which rounded out the top 10 in 2018, continues its influence in 2019 as “integrated student success planning and advising systems.”
  • All institution types are in the planning-expanding phase of deployment for the uses of APIs and active learning classrooms, except associate’s and private master’s institutions, which are in the tracking-planning phase of these technologies.
  • Public and private doctoral institutions are devoting more attention to active learning classrooms than other types of institutions. Early technology adopters are investing more effort in open educational resources and institutional support for accessibility technologies than other institutions. Midsized institutions are focused more on predictive analytics for student success at the institutional level than are smaller institutions
  • Next generation Wi-Fi, privacy-enhancing technologies, software-defined networks, uses of the Internet of Things for teaching and learning, and blockchain are among the most-tracked technologies in 2019, a sign of potential future directions.

Collectively, the 2019 top trends and strategic technologies support the three major themes of the Top 10 IT Issues: empowered students, trusted data, and 21st-century business strategies. We advise institutions to consider the trends and technologies in the context of the Top 10 IT Issues, and we provide a mapping to facilitate institutional conversations and planning.

© 2019 EDUCAUSE. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Citation for this work
D. Christopher Brooks and Mark McCormack. Higher Education’s 2019 Trend Watch and Top 10 Strategic Technologies. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, March 2019.